Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

History of Medieval Latin in Heidelberg

The Heidelberg Seminar for Medieval Latin Philology was founded on May 2nd, 1957. In 1973 the Seminar's name was expanded to include Neo-Latin Philology. In 2007 the seminar celebrated its 50th anniversary. For an academic enterprise, this age is not a particularly respectable one, but for the field Medieval Latin it is nevertheless noteworthy. After the Medieval Latin Seminar in Munich, founded shortly after the turn of the century, the Heidelberg Seminar is the second oldest in Germany

In 1972, the Heidelberg Seminar moved into its present quarters, Seminarstrasse 3, which had previously been a state courthouse. The Seminar features a library of ca. 12,000 volumes, which already in 1961 was considered a research instrument of the first class, and is one of the largest in the field. The library does not lend books, and its books are arranged according to a special chronological system that enables the well-informed medievalist to find his way in the library without referring to a catalogue. (Of course, there is also a catalogue.) In spite of its limitations, the Seminar is maintained in a condition that makes it attractive to guest scholars. Guests are offered desk space in the Seminar for 1 to 6 months, enabling them to further their research on themes in the field of Medieval Latin studies.

The field Medieval Latin philology is taught in its full extent. Special attention is devoted to paleography and to literary history, but courses in the history of the language and the history of the transmission of texts, as well as introductory courses in rhythm and metrics are offered regularly. Neo-Latin literature up to the year 1800 had been included in the Seminar's collection from its beginnings. Since 1973 courses on Neo-Latin literature have also been offered. Lectures, seminars, proseminars, exercises, reading courses and paleographical excursions are offered, on average, 16 hours per week during the semester. The Seminar's course offerings are supplemented by two guest lectures per year, delivered by Medieval Latin scholars from other universities, as well as by representatives of other disciplines who have worked on themes close to the disciplines of Medieval and Neo-Latin.

The seminar has always had close contact to the departments of modern languages, especially to Romance studies. At times, the participation in a Medieval Latin course was compulsory for some of the Romance studies disciplines. When the University of Heidelberg adopted the department system and instituted specialised groups, Romance studies and Medieval Latin were combined into one of these groups, which made it possible for the seminar to survive the first major economic crisis in post-war Germany and the vacancy of the seminar's chair (1967–1973). Admittedly, during this time, the organisational ties between Romance studies and Medieval Latin loosened; in 1968 the participation in a Medieval Latin course for students of Romance studies was made optional – students could now take part in such a course voluntarily, i.e. replacing the participation in a course in a second Romance language. The departments of History and Music instituted similar rules. The specialised groups were disbanded in 1977. Today, Medieval Latin has found a home at the ZEGK (the Centre for European History and Cultural Sciences); specifically, Medieval Latin now belongs to the History department.

The interdisciplinary scope and autonomy of Medieval Latin has a lot of advantages, but poses problems as well. One evidence for this are plain and simple statistics: whereas in nearly all the humanities the statistical number of students is significantly higher than the reality in the libraries and courses would suggest, Medieval Latin suffers from the contrary: many students from other disciplines participate in Medieval Latin courses on a regular basis yet do not show up in any statistics for Medieval Latin. For example, Medieval Latin generates a considerable "export value" for the History department because prospective historians can boost their knowledge of Latin to qualification level ("Latinum"). In other words: If we add up all students who have participated in a Medieval Latin course over the years, we can estimate that over 1,500 students at the University of Heidelberg have gained knowledge of Medieval Latin and culture.